Harkness had stared down the muzzle of French cannon. He had ridden the mizzen and jumped with cutlass and pistol to bring death to his foe. This was his most terrible enemy.
There were dozens of them, bulging like pale eggs above tiny waists clad in silk, faces of the dancers tinged gently pink after an hour of slow waltzing. His mother put a firmer elbow into his back and Harkness found himself plunging into the fray, lacy gloved hands reaching for him, horsey teeth barred in a manner more akin to a French cavalry horse than genteel shire women.
Bloody cousin Archie, the boy a pip-squeak able-seaman, and yet he was moving with grace from each gloved hand to the next, whilst Harkness smiled and tried not to flinch each time something soft and curvaceous made a probing sweep for him. Harkness was a catch – the hero of Cadiz, and heir to ten thousand acres. Oh, to be aboard his ship watching a dozen briney sailors stripped to the waist dance the hornpipe.
As the tinkling of the pianoforte faded the sharks began to close, and then!
A cry rang out, and a murmur of alarm spread.
The beast had been spotted.
Harkness was saved. This beast was the reason he came home, this mysterious creature that had begun to prowl on moonlit nights. He was deaf to mother’s plaintive cries as he marched from the ballroom.
He donned his battered naval jacket, shoved a brace of pistols into his belt and then galloped his favourite stallion down to the village. In the square he discovered a dozen cowering militiamen and their sergeant.
Harkness raised his cutlass above his head.
‘It’s probably smugglers, and this beast is a distraction to keep the revenue men inside.’
The militiamen clutched their muskets nervously. Harkness dismounted, and led the way on foot. They neared the village’s tiny harbour. Figures were moving in the murky light, figures ferrying bundles from the hold of a ship. Harkness surged forward in triumph.
One of the militiamen raised a weak hand and pointed.
It was the beast.
Thick black hair matted around snarling teeth, with slavering jaws sounding a growl that seemed to dance from hell. The beast’s arms were thick with muscle, its hands shaggy fur and wicked needle-sharp claws.
It was the head of a best but the body of a man, and what a man, what a beautiful torso and legs, naked skin so smooth and inviting in the moonlight. Harkness could not tear his eyes away. He stood slowly, fingers picking at the buttons of his coat.
The militiamen stared open mouthed at the size of this thing.
In an awestruck voice, the militia sergeant tried to buck them up.
‘Lads, the law of averages says there has to be some enormous outlier.’
Harkness has removed his shirt too. He stood there, bare chested and magnificent. He gazed at the cowering militiamen.
Harkness said, ‘That’s no beast, and to prove it, I’ll go one on one until either he’s trapped under my panting body or I beneath his.’
He strode out to face the beast.
The militia sergeant whistled low.
‘Lads. Now that’s a real hero.’